You Can Only Do in Emergencies What You Do Every Day
As in other disaster scenarios, those affected by wildfires face a difficult set of tasks in moving from acute emergency response to recovery to rebuilding, often facing significant obstacles in the process. Wildfires can be incredibly difficult to contain, leaving nearby residents’ air quality diminished by heavy smoke and ash for days on end. Wildfires can quickly change direction, leaving those nearby with little time to evacuate. As some in Chile said after the 2014 wildfires there, wildfires can be one of the more difficult disasters to recover from, because they destroy so much so quickly. Direct Relief has worked closely with a number of local community groups, nongovernmental organizations, and corporate partners to address community needs during wildfires and resulting mudslides.
With increased frequency of wildfires in recent years, Direct Relief has led regular response efforts in California and beyond, often collaborating with partner organizations, such as the California Primary Care Association and the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County. Direct Relief has led relief efforts for wildfires every year since 2007.
Equipping Hospitals and First Responders
During the Gap Fire, and again during subsequent efforts addressing situations including the Tea Fire, the Sayre Fire, the Jesusita Fire, the Thomas Fire, and many others, Direct Relief has worked closely with local health officials such as the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to assess healthcare needs and distribute thousands of N-95 respirators to 60-plus community organizations.
The organization also worked closely with clinics in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, including the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics and Clinicas del Camino Real in Oxnard, to provide inhalers and other respiratory medications. People with asthma and other respiratory conditions face the greatest health risks from airborne particulate matter during wildfires. Masks and medication can make a significant difference for those affected.
When a forest fire spread through Valparaíso, Chile, in April 2014, Direct Relief was able to ship requested medical supplies to Fundación FEDES, a Chilean nongovernmental organization that helps vulnerable people in communities across the country. Supplies provided included first-aid materials, such as wound dressings from Covidien/Medtronic Minimally Invasive Products; orthopedic supplies such as crutches, canes, and walkers; personal care supplies donated by the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies and The Soap Guy; nutritional products from Abbott; and other medical aid items.
After the January 9, 2018, Montecito Mudslide, Direct Relief purchased specifically requested off-road vehicles and emergency gear, which were deployed immediately by Montecito Fire Protection District, Santa Barbara County Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, Santa Barbara City Fire Department, and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search & Rescue. Direct Relief additionally provided the Tdap vaccine to first responders, cleanup workers, and residents in affected areas, with its stockpile of other vaccines and medical essentials made available for any further needs.
Establishing New Partnerships and Building for the Future
In responding to the Montecito Mudslide, as in previous wildfire responses, Direct Relief provided $20,000 grants to several fire protection districts and police departments to purchase additional emergency gear, including dry suits, headlamps, harnesses and cables, and helmets. A specially equipped off-road truck and trailer were also purchased to allow the Montecito Fire Protection District a way to transport the new off-road vehicles. Goggles, masks, and 3M protective suits were provided to community groups, Santa Barbara County agencies, residents in need, and Habitat for Humanity, which organized volunteer crews for cleanup efforts. Direct Relief also funded the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, which brought together hundreds of volunteers to assist homeowners with mud removal and cleanup work.
Additionally, Direct Relief committed an initial $100,000 to CAUSE, a Ventura County-based organization that works to support undocumented residents. Those experiencing economic losses due to work closures and other impacts were encouraged to apply to the fund. Direct Relief also established a 1/9 Victims Fund for those impacted by the Montecito Mudslide, with an initial $500,000 to support families of people who lost their lives, people who sustained injuries, and individuals who experienced property loss but did not qualify for the other two classes. Similar funds have been made available to those affected by other wildfires.
Leveraging Corporate and Charitable Support
When the Jesusita Fire was at its height in May 2009, Direct Relief partnered with UC Santa Barbara to set up an alternate care shelter at the university’s events center. Direct Relief deployed staff, volunteers, equipment, and supplies to rapidly set up this temporary location to receive up to 100 medically vulnerable people during evacuations due to the wildfire.
That month, Direct Relief also completed a 2-year, $500,000 project, underwritten by the Orfalea Fund, to install a 250-kilowatt generator at Direct Relief’s facility. The diesel-powered generator, would ensure the organization could function independently of the power grid in emergency scenarios such as wildfires, mudslides, and other disasters, supplying power for up to 6 days without fuel resupply, or indefinitely with resupply.
Direct Relief continues to coordinate with corporate and non-governmental organizations to ensure needed supplies are available when wildfires strike. The organization is committed to ongoing relief efforts in these situations, with the help of generous contributions from the public and corporate sources.